Recommended books: winter 2021

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Looking for some recommended books in time for Christmas gifts or winter reading? Here’s my semi-annual roundup of books I’ve read this year. 

For the first time in more than 20 years, I’ve been unable to read 52 books this year. I’ve been busy helping care for a very sick family member and that responsibility has left me with not nearly enough time to read.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased I’ve somehow managed to read 15 additional books (on top of the 25 I read in the first half of the year (see those earlier ones, here.)  

I give you this list close to Christmas to help you with plans for your own holiday reading. I list my top three non-fiction reads followed by my top three fiction ones. After these highlighted titles, I name the other books I’ve read in each category, in order of preference.

Please note I don’t generally read sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes don’t usually run in those directions.


1-Wilkerson, Isabelle. Caste. Unforgettable book – presenting the story of black people in America in an extraordinary way, drawing parallels to Nazi Germany. Both deeply scholarly and highly readable, this book is a remarkable work of art and scholarship.    

2-Land, Stephanie. MaidThis book was well promoted (I heard multiple interviews with Stephanie Land) and then turned into a rather good Netflix show starring Andie McDowell and her real-life daughter Margaret Qualley. Land is a fine writer and she’s lived a challenging life on food stamps and other forms of government assistance. I’d heard some people comment that they found the book too “whiney” but I totally disagree. 

3-Keret, Etgar. Seven Good Years. I sped through this highly amusing book of essays in a single day. The writer has a supremely readable, very easy-going style and a great sense of humour. This memoir, of the first seven years of his son’s life, is presented as a series of short essays. I think of Keret as an Israeli David Sedaris. 

OTHER NON-FICTION (in order of preference)

4-Copaken, Deborah. Ladyparts. Well written memoir about the life of a writer and how the American health care system fails many women, in particular. I enjoyed it but thought it would have benefitted from some substantial editing. (Found it about 30% too long.)

5-Morrisey, Donna. PluckThe subtitle of this book says it all: A memoir of a Newfoundland childhood and the raucous, terrible, amazing journey to becoming a novelist. I’ve never read any of Morrissey’s fiction but based on the strength of this charming and resilient memoir, I will. 

6-Fitzgerald, James. What Disturbs our Blood. Fascinating exploration of mental illness and health in the form of memoir by the son and grandson of a pair of doctors who had a profound impact on public health in Canada.

7-Fisher, Carrie. Wishful Drinking. I always found Carrie Fisher to be both amusing and interesting. So, when a friend recently offered me a copy of her 2008 memoir/humour book, I leapt at the chance. It was a fast and fun read that felt more like a conversation with a funny and self-deprecating friend.

8-Fitzpatrick, Rob. Write Useful Books. I bought this book on the strength of its title. While it does contain some useful info (primarily about titling books) this very short and obviously self-published tome has a great many weaknesses, including an amateur cover and layout. How can Fitzpatrick present himself as an expert on publishing books when he makes such obvious and serious mistakes?

9-Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places. The politics of Ross Douthat certainly don’t match mine, so you might be surprised that I’d pick up a recent memoir of his. But the subject of Lyme Disease interests me and I read an excerpt of the book (can’t remember where) and was impressed by the writing. After finishing it, I’m not sure I’d recommend his unfocused and somewhat whiney approach. If you want to read what a better writer has to say about Lyme Disease, check out Amy Tan’s thoughts


1-French, Tana. The Likeness. Suspenseful story focusing on a victim and a police detective with surprising similarities. French somehow manages to turn murder into fine literature (although I didn’t find this book quite as compelling as her earlier one, In the Woods.) 

2-Russell, Kate Elizabeth. My Dark VanessaThis portrayal of troubled adolescence — presenting a 15-year-old girl who has an affair with a 42-year old teacher — raises questions about agency, consent, complicity and victimhood. A really interesting and provocative read.

3-Stead, Rebecca. The List of Things that Will Not ChangeI enjoy skillfully written young adult fiction and this book falls into that category. The story of a tween coping with the divorce of her parents has the expected happy ending but delivers some charming characters and skilful plot twists along the way.

OTHER FICTION (in order of preference)

4-Bauer, Belinda. Snap. Murder mystery with the added twist of the plot being told from the view of the murder victim’s young son. I agree with the critics who said that Bauer has a superb eye for the life of children. I thought her writing could have been more sophisticated, though. 

5-Watts, Madeleine. The Inland Sea. This story — about a young Australian woman trying to find her way in the world as a writer, and a 911 operator — reminded me a bit of the work of Sally Rooney. I found Watts’ plotting skills a bit weak but I very much enjoyed her deeply skillful writing style.  

6-Michaelides, Alex. The Maidens. I really didn’t understand the fuss about this book, which I found deeply disappointing. Although this murder mystery supposedly finds contemporary parallels in Euripides’s tragedies, Jacobean dramas and Tennyson’s poetry, I found it to be thoroughly pedestrian.  


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 


My video podcast last week addressed whether you should have your own website. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


What are the best books you’ve read in the last six months? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to LJ, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Nov. 23/21 comment on my blog. (Please send me your mailing address, LJ!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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